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Subject: 2 players and easy of learning rss

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Pierre-Yves Caron
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I would like to have some advices on the COIN system/games.

I will be playing mostly 2 players and I would like to know which of the games should be my first buy. I know Colonial Twilight is specifically designed for 2 players, and Liberty or Death plays well with two. Would they be the best option?

Also, for ease of learning the system, Cuba Libre is usually the one that is suggested as being the easiest one to learn. Does it play well with 2? Would CT or LoD be good candidates to learn the system?

Finally, I guess the appreciation of the theme is really important. Does the appreciation of the theme helps in learning the game, as you easily translate game actions into thematic actions?
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Brian Train
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My usual advice is to find the game with the historical theme/conflict you are most interested in, and your interest in that should sustain and motivate you through the process of learning the game and understanding what it is trying to portray.

Of course if you are looking for a game to play with no particular interest in the history, then the one with the smallest number of pieces and map area would be better - hence, Cuba Libre.

Colonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62 is designed for just two players.
It is possible to play any of the COIN system games released to date with two players, either with the setup suggested in the rules to the game or with a variant I came up with: https://brtrain.wordpress.com/2016/05/13/spielenexperiment-t...

(and just for fun, I came up with a variant for 4-player Colonial Twilight too: https://brtrain.wordpress.com/2018/01/10/spielenexperiment-i...)

Now since you are learning the system as you go, be aware that opinions differ on using the 'bots when you are learning.
Some people find them really helpful, to learn what should be the more important actions or choices for each faction to take, while others find them baffling and frustrating (someone described it as like taking the bus, but getting off and then on again at every stop).

These are useful pieces to read, by Paul Dussault:

http://ludobits.com/blog/posts/cuba-libre-coin-pedagogy

https://ludobits.com/the-5-worst-mistakes-ive-made-when-lear...

I hope you enjoy the COIN series, no matter what title you start with.

Brian
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Jay M
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I think the bots will seem fiddly to you if you're wanting something easy to learn.

I think the best idea is to get Colonial Twilight. There are other 2 player COINS in the pipeline, so now is a good time to learn the wonderful two player initiative system that Brian developed.

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Harold Buchanan
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Pick the historical theme that is most interesting to you and you will skip through the learning curve with enthusiasm.
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David Goulette
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I actually think that Colonial Twilight is the easiest to learn.

Yes, it is true that Cuba Libre is simpler overall with less components, simpler map, and less options per faction. But there are four factions to learn and understand which I find to be the most challenging part of learning a new COIN game. I find that the underlying rules of COIN games are generally easy to learn. The hard part is remembering the details of everything each faction can do.

When you have 4 factions, the possible ramifications of your decision is much more complex to evaluate (because it will effect all four factions). With two factions it is much simpler to see what effect your choices will have.

Just my view anyway.
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Jonathan Yedidia
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ltmurnau wrote:

It is possible to play any of the COIN system games released to date with two players, either with the setup suggested in the rules to the game or with a variant I came up with: https://brtrain.wordpress.com/2016/05/13/spielenexperiment-t...
I was thinking about your very interesting 2-player variant after reading your article about it in C3i #31, and it seems to me that it may have an issue with a faction not getting a chance to take an action for a long time. For example, in Liberty or Death, the cards might keep coming up with the French to the left of the Patriots, so the Patriots would not be able to take an action for a long time.

So it seems better to me if for each side, the way one determines which faction would take the action for that card would alternate from card to card. Every other card, it would work like in your variant, where the faction was determined by the one to the left on the card, but on the next card, the faction to play would be the other one on that side.

It's pretty easy to track this by just using all the normal faction initiative markers on your "home plate" display. Place both factions' markers in the appropriate "eligible" box if it is a card where either could be chosen, but after that turn, place the played faction's marker just outside of the appropriate "eligible" box, to indicate it is not eligible on this card.

You also didn't specify how to reset the initiative markers after a coup/propaganda style card. Personally, my inclination is to *not* reset; just carry on with the markers from where they were. This seems most fair to me in terms of ensuring that the factions get an equal number of actions.

Finally, you didn't specify exactly what to do about Pivotal Event or Brilliant Stroke cards, but my inclination is to imitate how they work in Colonial Twilight. So basically, a faction that was eligible and had met the preconditions can play such a card whether it was first or second eligible (swap the sides' faction markers so that it is first eligible if necessary), and then the other side can play as if that faction played an event for its side. And since the side that played the pivotal event played an event, it remains first eligible for the next card.
 
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Brian Train
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jed2000 wrote:
ltmurnau wrote:

It is possible to play any of the COIN system games released to date with two players, either with the setup suggested in the rules to the game or with a variant I came up with: https://brtrain.wordpress.com/2016/05/13/spielenexperiment-t...
I was thinking about your very interesting 2-player variant after reading your article about it in C3i #31, and it seems to me that it may have an issue with a faction not getting a chance to take an action for a long time. For example, in Liberty or Death, the cards might keep coming up with the French to the left of the Patriots, so the Patriots would not be able to take an action for a long time.

So it seems better to me if for each side, the way one determines which faction would take the action for that card would alternate from card to card. Every other card, it would work like in your variant, where the faction was determined by the one to the left on the card, but on the next card, the faction to play would be the other one on that side.

It's pretty easy to track this by just using all the normal faction initiative markers on your "home plate" display. Place both factions' markers in the appropriate "eligible" box if it is a card where either could be chosen, but after that turn, place the played faction's marker just outside of the appropriate "eligible" box, to indicate it is not eligible on this card.

You also didn't specify how to reset the initiative markers after a coup/propaganda style card. Personally, my inclination is to *not* reset; just carry on with the markers from where they were. This seems most fair to me in terms of ensuring that the factions get an equal number of actions.

Finally, you didn't specify exactly what to do about Pivotal Event or Brilliant Stroke cards, but my inclination is to imitate how they work in Colonial Twilight. So basically, a faction that was eligible and had met the preconditions can play such a card whether it was first or second eligible (swap the sides' faction markers so that it is first eligible if necessary), and then the other side can play as if that faction played an event for its side. And since the side that played the pivotal event played an event, it remains first eligible for the next card.
Thanks for your comments.

One faction not coming up for a long time: this came up on another thread discussing this variant.
I don't think it's necessary to be rigid about this.
You probably know this, but the event card decks in the 4-player COIN system games (so far published, anyway) are designed in multiples of 24, that is, one each of the 24 possible combinations among four factions.
So ideally there is equality of opportunity among the factions.
But there isn't equality, in actual play, because of the events on the cards themselves making factions ineligible, factions choosing to Pass, the resets from Propaganda Rounds, and the effects of having a random number of cards deducted from the deck if you are playing a shorter scenario.
This is true whether you are playing with 2 players or 4.
Because of these qualities, every game will be different, and biased WRT certain players (whether it's biased for or against depends on which faction you were playing in the game!)

Reset: same thing, I would just reset all four factions to Eligible and let the randomness go from there.

Pivotal events: Your suggestion sounds like the way to go, I suppose.

Brian

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Jonathan Yedidia
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Thanks for commenting so quickly!

I suppose I still disagree about the issue of one faction not coming up for a long time. In the four player game, or the two player game using the standard two-player rules, you can basically always ensure that a faction gets a chance to act reasonably quickly, as when the other factions play they fall out of eligibility. So while there is "unfairness," it's inherently quite limited.

In your variant on the other hand, even though the cards are overall fair, it's still quite possible that you get 4 or 5 cards in a row where, say in Liberty or Death, the Indians are to the left of the British or the French are to the left of the Patriots. I think this happening would make the game feel quite strange and unfair. So, personally, I would rather be "rigidly" fair; there's still plenty of variation based on which factions happen to be chosen when, and which cards come up. Of course, in Colonial Twilight things are inherently fair since there are only two factions.

I'm most interested in using your variant with Liberty or Death as a two-player solitaire game (playing both sides), because it feels naturally like a two-player game, and in fact playing two-player solves the issues with the victory conditions. Your variant definitely seems much nicer than the regular rules for that purpose, because looking ahead for the four factions feels like a pain when playing two-player solo. But I think I'll try my "rigid" version of your variant.

About the reset--your version seems reasonable and is in fact more in keeping with how all the COIN games work, so maybe I'll do that your way. By the way, you state in the C3I article that which side is first eligible first is decided randomly, but didn't state how. If all the factions are eligible at the beginning of each campaign, it seems like the natural way to decide that is to say whichever side has the faction that is most to the left on the first card of a campaign is the first to be first-eligible for that campaign.
 
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Brian Train
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Well, I guess the only way to prove the relative unfairness of either method would be to establish it by experiment.
Play some games of LoD, by both "free" and "rigid" methods, and see who gets advantaged/disadvantaged and by how much.
I would further guess there would be a lot of variation, because the number of permutations in an event deck is astronomical.

First card after a Reset: Using the leftmost faction on the first card as first first eligible is a random enough method for me!

Brian
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Jonathan Yedidia
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In fact, if one wanted to be more efficient about it, one could write a computer program which would draw cards according to their distribution in the game and the rules, and gather statistics about how many runs of how many cards a faction might be shut out from playing.

But I'd like to make a couple additional points. One is that it is at least possible, even if it is not likely, that in the "free" version of the variant, the Patriots will be shut out from taking even a single action during the entire first campaign. Obviously this would cause problems for the Patriot/French player, and it would not be a very reasonable historical simulation.

The second point is that the "rigid" version is actually not that rigid, and less rigid in fact than the ordinary rules. In the ordinary rules, what tends to happen is that factions pair up. So for example, you might have the British and the French play one card, and then the Indians and the Patriots, then because the Indians and Patriots are not eligible, back to the British and French, and so on back and forth until a faction passes.

In my "rigid" version of your variant on the other hand, you might randomly choose (because they are leftmost) the British and the French when they were all eligible, and then certainly you'll have the Indian and Patriots on the next card, but already on the following card you could have any pair. So the pairings will get mixed up more than in the ordinary rules, and I think the "rigid" version of your variant will already have more variety than the ordinary rules by quite a bit. Which is something I like by the way; since the back and forth pairings in the ordinary rules is not something I really like.

In any case, I wanted to also thank you very much for the variant, and of course for A Distant Plain and Colonial Twilight, both of which I'm also very glad to own!
 
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Brian Train
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I don't know how likely it is that a faction would be shut out entirely during a campaign, but I suppose it is possible.
Someone could possibly write a program to find out, but I'm not the one to do it.
The next thing to do is actually play some games and see what happens.

You're very welcome!
Enjoy the games!

Brian
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Oerjan Ariander
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ltmurnau wrote:
One faction not coming up for a long time: this came up on another thread discussing this variant.
I don't think it's necessary to be rigid about this.
You probably know this, but the event card decks in the 4-player COIN system games (so far published, anyway) are designed in multiples of 24, that is, one each of the 24 possible combinations among four factions.
So ideally there is equality of opportunity among the factions.
But there isn't equality, in actual play, because of the events on the cards themselves making factions ineligible, factions choosing to Pass, the resets from Propaganda Rounds, and the effects of having a random number of cards deducted from the deck if you are playing a shorter scenario.
Oh Brian, you know you're playing with fire when you post things like this...

Having played a few hundred standard 4-Faction COIN playtest games where I recorded among other things the Eligible Factions' positions in the Faction Order on each played card, plus a handful of games using your 2-player variant, I definitely agree with Jonathan.

The inequalities that you list are precisely what causes your 2-player variant to have such a great risk of leaving a Faction out of the game for long stretches of cards. It probably won't be out of actions for the entire game, no; but with the COIN side's "Sweep-then-Assault" mechanism, anything that prevents a Guerrilla Faction from Rallying at least some of its Guerrillas after being Swept can very easily spell disaster. A Faction that gets starved of actions early in the game risks being stomped down so hard that it is unable to recover when it finally does start to get actions.

Of course the standard 4-player system features all of these inequalities too, but it also has one huge equalizing factor: the fact that taking an action as 1st or 2nd Eligible almost always makes the Faction Ineligible on the next card. Because of this, the Faction that is 3rd in the Faction Order on a card still has ~10% chance to be 1st Eligible on that card, and thanks to Passing (and to those very few Events that manipulate Eligibility) even the last Faction in the card's Faction Order has a 2-3% chance to be 1st Eligible (!) - something that will never happen in the 2-player variant.

As for 2nd Eligible, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Factions in the Faction Order have roughly equal chances in the standard system; they're all in the 30-35% range. Yes, being 2nd Eligible often means that you only get a LimOp, and yes, being 2nd Eligible on several of your turns in a row sucks; but imagine then how badly it would hurt a Faction that doesn't get to do anything for a long sequence of cards...!

If you look at the total number of actions (as both 1st and 2nd Eligible combined) the different Factions get over the course of an standard 4-Fation game, it is very rare for the difference between the number of actions for the Factions that got the most and the least respectively to exceed 2. When it does happen, it is almost always because the Faction that got the fewest Factions Passed excessively.


Your 2-player variant removes this "act now, be Ineligible next card" equalizing factor entirely, leaving the inequalities you listed to run amok unchecked. On each card, only one Faction from each side is allowed to act, even if it acted on the previous card; and even if the entire Event deck is used, the same Faction from a given side will be the first of the pair on 50% of the cards - which is low enough that it is almost inevitable to get sequences where the same Faction comes first several cards in a row. In shorter scenarios where a number of random cards are removed from the deck the ratio can get far more skewed than that, greatly increasing the risk that one Faction comes before its "ally" in the Faction Order on multiple cards in a row - and also increasing the risk that one Faction on a side will also get many more actions total than its "ally". In games where much of the balance depends on each Faction's ability to react to threats in a timely manner - and all the 4-player COIN games to date are designed that way - such same-Faction-action sequences inevitably cause game balance problems.


Let's take a closer look at the FitL deck, specifically the 48-card 1965 deck used in the historical Short scenario, and how it balances the Faction Order for the two sides. Starting with COIN Factions (US and ARVN):

ARVN before US: 25 cards (incl. 1 ARVN Capability)
US before ARVN: 23 cards (incl. 1 NVA, 1 VC and 4 US Capabilities)

At first glance this doesn't look so bad for the COIN side; 25 ARVN-first vs 23 US-first is almost 1:1.

However, Capabilities in FitL tend to be very powerful. Even if you don't have time to play them yourself (the 1st Edition Short scenario lasts between 16 and 24 Event cards, so you're on a very tight schedule), you definitely do not want the enemy side to play them since that could ruin your ability to Operate! Since furthermore the 2-player variant guarantees that the 2nd Eligible Faction will be an enemy one (whereas in the standard system the 2nd Eligible is often your "ally"), this effectively means that the 1st Eligible Faction's choices on any Capability cards become a choice between the Event or taking an Ops Only (no SA - which, given how heavily all FitL Factions except the VC rely on their SAs, isn't that much better than taking a LimOp). If we only count the non-Capability cards as fully effective, the ratio of "useful" ARVN-first to "useful" US-first cards drops from 25:23 to 24:17, or in other words from almost 1:1 to almost 3:2 in the ARVN's favour...

...and that's before we take into account the fact that the FitL Short scenario only uses 24 of the 48 cards in this deck, and that the final Coup card can appear after as little as 16 Event cards played. Removing all those cards from the deck can skew the ratio between the Factions massively.


For the communist side (NVA+VC), the full 1965 deck has 20 cards (including 3 Capabilities) where the NVA come before the VC in the Faction order, and 28 cards (including 4 Capabilities) where the VC come before the NVA. That's rather more skewed than the COIN side, though the Capabilities are more evenly distributed between the two Factions.


To demonstrate the Faction Order effects of the 2-player variant, I built a Short scenario deck for FitL (1st Edition standard rules, i.e. random shuffle of Events, and the Coups can appear at any point during the 8-card Campaigns rather than being seeded towards the end of the Campaigns) and just flipped the cards to see how the Faction order between the Factions on each side played out. For the COIN side (US+ARVN), the sequence went like this:

1 US-first
1 ARVN-first
4 US-first (1 Capability)
COUP

1 ARVN-first
1 US-first
2 ARVN-first
1 US-first
2 ARVN-first (1 Capability)
1 US-first
1 ARVN-first
COUP

3 US-first (1 Capability)
1 ARVN-first
COUP - game ends

Unplayed cards (after final Coup):
2 ARVN-first
3 US-first (1 Capability)

In this particular "game", the deck was fairly even in terms of cards with ARVN or US first - US first on 14 of 24 cards including 3 Capabilities, ARVN first on 10 cards including 1 Capability - but due to the order in which the Event cards and Coups came up, the US totally controlled the first and last Campaigns while the ARVN dominated the 2nd Campaign but without shutting the US out completely.

Then we have the NVA+VC side in the same deck. They got:

1 VC-first
5 NVA-first (1 Capability)
COUP

4 NVA-first
1 VC-first
1 NVA-first
3 VC-first (1 Capability)
COUP

1 NVA-first
3 VC-first (1 Capability)
COUP - game ends

Unplayed:
1 VC-first
2 NVA-first (1 Capability)
1 VC-first
1 NVA-first

Again the deck was fairly even as long as we don't consider the card order, with 14 NVA-first (including 2 Capabilities) to 10 VC-first (also including 2 Capabilities) - BTW, note how this play deck exactly reverses the NVA-first:VC-first ratio from the full 1965 deck! - but most of the NVA-first cards came up early while most of the VC-first cards came up late. Of the 10 first Event cards of the game, 9 in a row were NVA-first! Exactly the kind of situation Jonathan worried about above...

If this had been a real game, the NVA would have built up to nearly full strength by the middle of the 2nd Campaign (using any LimOps to Rally and improve the Trail) - but then they'd only have gotten 2 more actions for the rest of the game, so they'd've had very few opportunities to actually use that strength.

Meanwhile the US would get to crush the VC in South Vietnam during the 1st Campaign while the NVA were taking all the communist-side actions (if the VC don't get to Rally after being Swept, it only takes the US 2 Op+SA combos to remove every VC piece from the entire country!); then in the 2nd Campaign the ARVN would get to Govern for Patronage virtually undisturbed (the VC still haven't had a chance to repair the damage inflicted on them during the 1st Campaign, the NVA running out of actions just as they finished their build-up, and the US of course being controlled by the same player as the ARVN so they wouldn't interfere); and then in the final Campaign the US would get to destroy whatever gains the communist Factions had made and possibly also position themselves for some support-building attempts (the NVA being unable to respond due to a lack of actions, and the VC still not having recovered from being annihilated during the 1st Campaign).


TL;DR: Jonathan is right to be concerned about which Faction gets to go first.

Regards,
Oerjan
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Brian Train
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Brian Train
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I didn't have a lot of time tonight but I did a trial too, with 48 cards from A Distant Plain: 44 random events, 4 Props, didn't note when or how Capabilities came up.

But instead of two COIN vs two Insurgent Factions, which is the only option offered in FitL, I did Coalition + Warlords vs. Taliban + Government.

Coalition went first 21 times out of 44.
Warlords went first 23 times out of 44.
Taliban went first 19 times out of 44.
Government went first 25 times out of 44.

First campaign: 7 cards, Coalition 3, Warlords 4, Taliban 4, Government 3
Second campaign: 13 cards, Coalition 5, Warlords 8, Taliban 6, Government 7
Third campaign: 15 cards, Coalition 8, Warlords 7, Taliban 6, Government 9
Fourth campaign: 9 cards, Coalition 5, Warlords 4, Taliban 4, Government 5

Most common matchup on each card was Coalition vs. Govt = 13 instances.
But Warlord vs. Government = 11
Warlord vs. Taliban = 10
Coalition vs. Taliban = 10

Longest string of any single faction going first, uninterrupted by Propaganda:
Coalition = 3
Warlords = 4
Taliban = 3
Government = 5

What does this prove... well, it's just another trial, with somewhat more even results than yours.

Jonathan, I do follow your logic about resetting the eligibility order between allied factions every two cards... that would suppress the possibility of really long strings, I admit.
Though with the "no look ahead" provision long strings are also unpredictable for the player, so at any moment they would still have the choice (if 1st eligible between the two players) to do a LimOp or Event, thinking they might be able to go first again next turn, or do Op + SA or multiple Ops to get a bunch of things done, but knowing either faction would have limited choices on the next card.
Still makes long-range planning a bit iffy.

Well, more to think about... thanks!
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